CSN @ Nrama: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly & Chuck Dixon

Peek: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly #1

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly #2

This story originally appeared in Comic Shop News #1145

Even though he starred in three of the best-known Western films of the past fifty years, his identity remains unknown... which his why he’s referred to as The Man With No Name. But when he returns to comics in his new ongoing series later this year, he’ll have a very well-known writer chronicling his exploits... and a very well-known title.

Chuck Dixon, a veteran who has written comics for Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse, CrossGen, IDW, Devil’s Due, and virtually every other major publisher of the past thirty years, has signed on as writer of Dynamite’s The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly. While the second Man With No Name series shares a title with one of the three Sergio Leone films that starred the taciturn antihero, Dixon points out that “it’s not an adaptation. We’re just taking advantage of the familiarity of the name.

That said, the events of this series follow the events of the film.” However, all that the two share in common are “the core elements that make the series what it was. None of the characters recur here, either, other than The Man.”

In Dixon’s The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly, “The Man With No Name is after a train robber with a $5000 bounty on his head. This outlaw joins the ex-Confederate soldiers who rode into Mexico by the thousands to sell their skills as mercenaries to Maximilian, the emperor of Mexico,” the writer explained. “So our hero has to follow this guy hoping to cut him out of an entire army and bring him back to hang in Texas. Of course, things go from bad to worse.”

While the Western genre is populated by legions of heroes, it’s Leone’s Westerns that seem so perfectly suited for comics. What makes these films so iconic? “Leone—with a large part of the credit going to Eastwood—pared the western down to its essence,” Dixon said. “He made this operatic three-part epic about the iconic drifter, but he removed any illusions that the hero was motivated by anything beyond avarice and his own survival.

“Westerns had matured at this point so that Leone wasn’t making so much a leap as a he was bending the genre. He was building on what directors like John Ford, Howard Hawks, Bud Boetticher, and Anthony Mann had explored with their own westerns in the 1950s. But he threw out anything dealing with manifest destiny or any sense of personal honor. The Man rides through a West where everything is determined by his skill with a gun... a kill or be killed world.”

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly #1

What distinctive elements from Leone’s film series will translate particularly well to comics, and how will Dixon use them? “Leone’s deliberate pacing an attention to detail play our perfectly in comic form,” His use of panoramic views contrasted with tight close-ups use the borders of the screen to draw you into his action the same way that a comic panel does. Also, the grand operatic themes he works with are very suited to the broader way in which comics have to communicate to get their ideas across.”

The Man With No Name, with his self-defined ethos and his pragmatic outlook, seems particularly well suited for an audience accustomed to heroes such as the Punisher and Wolverine. However, Dixon asserts that there’s a difference between the Man with No Name and the noir hero to which some compare him. “There’s a lot of loose talk about what makes a noir character,” Dixon said. “The Man doesn’t really fit into that. Noir characters are generally victims of chance; they live in a world where that they no longer have control over; a world of the everyday gone wrong. It’s the contrast between the real world and the new, horrific existence that the noir protagonist finds himself in that makes those stories compelling. I see lots of stuff calling itself ‘noir’ that is just delirium in place of a story because they forget that contrast.

“The Man With No Name is the opposite of noir. The Man is making things happen. It’s his world and he commands all the respect with his gun and his fearless determination. He’s a stoic and won’t allow the world of others to touch him. When events do get out of hand, it’s up to him to get them reined in—even if he has to kill everyone else on screen to do so. Wolverine? He used to be that kind of character until they solved all his mysteries and left us with nothing more to explore as readers.”

Dixon sees the private eye archetype as being a more appropriate analog for the Man With No Name. “In the P.I. formula you have a guy who is struggling to keep up as the case breaks wider and wider and the mysteries deepen. But he's a world-weary cynic who quickly catches up. The noir hero like Edmond O'Brien in D.O.A. or Ray Milland in The Big Clock or Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window is a guy going along like life is normal and is suddenly thrust into a world of danger and intrigue he's not prepared for; his life is no longer under his control and he either surrenders to fate or struggles against it to get back to normalcy. That's classic noir. I look at noir lists and see gangster movies and heist films listed. That's not the genre. Just because it's in black and white and they're wearing fedoras doesn't make it noir.

“As far as a code, The Man With No Name has something more like guidelines; lessons learned from life like Burt Lancaster in Vera Cruz. These rules keep him alive; keep him on top of the game and above the ground.”

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly #2

While Dixon is pleased to see the return of Westerns to the marketplace, he is less pleased with the “Western-amalgam,” as some define the current trend towards horror-Westerns, mystery-Westerns, or romance-Westerns, for instance. “I really hate pseudo-Westerns. One more cowboy story with zombies or witches or aliens is one story too many. And I can’t blame the creators. Most publishers don’t know how to market a Western unless there’s a horror or sci-fi hook. Westerns are a simple genre—simple and elegant. Tell a good story that leads to a conclusion where everything is worked out through violence. It doesn’t get simpler than that. Throwing in werewolves or robots just takes away from that and makes it silly.

“Western comics are popular the world over, and their popularity has never waned. But here we lose faith in our own creations. AMC ran Broken Trail with Robert Duvall and won their time slot on a Sunday night, even over broadcast channels. So, they had proof that millions of people would watch a new Western on TV. But where’s the follow-up? Were I AMC, I’d make one of them every month. There’s an audience for it. It’s why John Wayne is still in the top ten when people are polled about their favorite movie star. Dead thirty years and he polls higher than Harrison Ford.

“That said, the library market has opened comics to a whole new audience of casual readers—readers far more likely to pick up a Western or detective story than they are a superhero one.”

So is it safe to assume that The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly will be a more archetypal Western? “It’s an Italian western. Violent but not gory. Sadistic bad guys. A hero with near supernatural abilities with a six shooter. Big operatic stuff and attention to western minutia.”

If it sounds like Dixon is quite an aficionado of the Western genre, there’s good reason. “I have two of those 400 DVD changers in my home theater. One is filled with Western movies and the other is filled with Western TV shows. It’s my favorite genre, bar none. Given a choice, I would watch a bad Western before I’d watch a good anything else.

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly #1

“I’m a big fan of the Leone Westerns and Italian Westerns in general. I like the enthusiasm for the genre on display there. The stories are huge in one respect and intimate in others. And every problem is solved with the aid of a Colt. As an Italian movie producer once put it, ‘I like Westerns because, if I fall asleep during one, when I wake up I still know what’s going on.’”

Dynamite is giving Dixon carte blanche to make The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly “as expansive as Chuck wants to make it,” Dynamite publisher Nick Barrucci said. “We're really happy to have Chuck on board... and I think he would have shot me if we started The Good, The Bad and the Ugly without him, so that had something to do with it! Seriously though, Chuck's a great writer, and just talking to him makes it clear just how much he knows. In every conversation with him, every interview with him, I always seem to learn something new.

“From what I can tell, his ability to expand on the Man With No Name mythos will be hard to match. I'm hoping that he can build this to the point that we can't have anyone but him write it! (Or elese he might pull out his gun again—nd while he’s no Clint Eastwood, he’s still pretty scary!...”

The series is illustrated by Esteve Polls, who is no stranger to Leone’s films. “I’m such a big fan!” Polls said. “In fact, I saw the movies in Spain when they were first released in theaters—so you can see that I´m not a teenager—and I have copies of them in my private library.”

The Good, the Bad & The Ugly #1

While Polls may be a new name for American audiences, he’s not a newcomer to comics. “I started in the comics field pretty young, working initially in the UK market, where I did a lot of illustration work for school books. I also did several albums for the French market.

“In the US, I’ve been working for IDW before this. The opportunity to work on The Good, The Bad & The Ugly came about because I did a short story with Chuck Dixon set in the American Civil War, and it seems that he liked what I did (I have to say that I did, too; it’s great to be working with a wonderful writer!). Chuck asked me, through my agent, to join him on this project, and as I’m a big fan of historical comics and Westerns, I said ‘yes.’”

Is it challenging to find the right creators who can handle Westerns well? “It's challenging to find the right creators for everything,” Barrucci said. “Westerns are not harder or easier—they're a different tale to tell. I think that a lot of readers don't realize how great Westerns can be. When you have the right creative voice telling them, then you generate word of mouth, which can benefit Westerns as well as any other title.”

The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly #1 is slated for mid-July release from Dynamite Entertainment.

Twitter activity